BP has said it was making progress on what could prove its most effective effort yet to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, but warned that the verdict could be several days away.
A new cap being placed on top of the gusher is intended to provide a tight seal and might eventually allow the oil giant to capture all crude leaking from the well for the first time since an April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion set off the environmental crisis.
But several previous failed attempts to stop the leak have made BP careful to keep expectations grounded.
“We’re pleased with our progress,” said BP senior vice president Kent Wells, who then hastened to add the operation was still expected to last up to six more days.
Asked during a conference call if the new cap and collection efforts would end the spilling of oil into the Gulf, Mr Wells said only that BP would capture all the oil “at some point.”
He said BP may have to bring another vessel back online and add additional collection capacity in order to stop the oil flow altogether.
Officials will not be satisfied the cap is working until they have run tests on whether it can withstand the tremendous pressure of oil pushing up from below the seafloor, Mr Wells said.
“We’ve tried to work out as many of the bugs as we can. The challenge will come with something unexpected,” he said.
The leak has has been gushing largely unchecked since an old, leaky cap was removed from the wellhead on Saturday to make way for the new one.
Between 88 and 174 million gallons have already spilled into the Gulf, according to US government estimates.
Wary Gulf residents and officials reserved judgment about BP’s latest effort and said the damage already done to the environment, fishing and tourism would haunt the region for a long time either way.
“At this point, there have been so many ups and downs, disappointments, that everybody down here is like, ‘We’ll believe it when we see it,”’ said Keith Kennedy, a charter boat captain in Venice, Louisiana.
Robotic submarines finished removing a broken piece of pipe that was bolted around the leak at around 3am yesterday. That paved the way for the installation of a pipe-like connector called a flange spool that will sit on top of the spewing well bore.
The new cap would be mounted on top of that connector and have flexible pipes leading up to surface ships.